Did you know that in one single month in the 2016 Presidential campaign candidates spent a total $2,228,204 on political campaign products? It gives a whole new meaning to “voting with your dollar”.
One product that immediately springs to mind is Trump’s Make America Great Again hat. Corey Lewandowski, one of Trump’s campaign managers, explained how this polarizing, yet effective hat helped to focus voters around a singular message:
“It’s just a disruptive technology. People who weren’t involved in politics, that didn’t have a political background, wanted to show their support for something different and their way to do that was to buy hats.” - Lewandowski told CNN of the campaign hats.
Irrespective of your personal opinion on the slogan, the hats proved more than effective in uniting and exciting Trump supporters. In an increasingly heated and highly competitive environment, marketing strategists are turning to one of politics’ oldest forms of marketing to help sway and engage voters: campaign merchandise.
A Brief History of Campaign Merchandise
The idea of campaign merchandise first emerged with America’s first President, George Washington, at his inauguration. Attendees could purchase brass buttons which said: "Long Live the President" and "GW”.
George Washington's inauguration button. (Image via Racked)
However, it was during William Henry Harrison’s campaign in 1840 that merchandising became a foundation of political marketing. Using the “Log Cabin Campaign of 1840” brand, Harrison sold buttons, brooches, china, handkerchiefs and replica log cabins.
"It was so successful that it really changed the nature of campaigning. They'd have torchlight parades down the street, and they'd march around with little models of log cabins. This just swept the country." - Harry Rubenstein, chair and curator of political history at The Smithsonian National Museum of American History, told Racked.
Fast forward hundreds of years, and in 2018, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s brand played a big role in securing her win:
“While she’s a vocal candidate with progressive ideals, she has an equally communicative, but silent, tool at her side: her visual brand. On the streets of New York’s 14th Congressional District, which includes parts of eastern Bronx and northern Queens, you might spot vibrant yellow campaign posters printed with a portrait of Ocasio-Cortez with her last name bookended by Spanish exclamation points, and calls to action in bold type, set at an attention-grabbing angle.” - Vox.com
Campaign Poster. Image via AOC’s website.
This visual brand was carried across to Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign merchandise which included fashionable items, all with bold statements reflective of her messaging, and targeted at her younger demographic.
All of which shows, if you want to create a strong and lasting impression, using merchandise in your political marketing and branding strategies can prove highly effective.
Political Merchandise Ideas
Campaign merchandise is some of the most visible marketing a political campaign can implement. We see supporters wearing custom t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, tote bags and buttons to name but a few. When people wear or use your branded political merchandise they become a walking billboard for your campaign and its messages. Let’s explore some of the most popular items.
Custom T-shirts are popular, versatile and can leave a lasting impression. With custom tees, you can influence and engage potential voters with a product which is highly reflective of your political brand messaging, colors, fonts, and imagery.
Campaign T-Shirt. Image via Bernie Sander's website.
Enthusiasm runs high during elections, and there’s no easier way for supporters to make their loyalties known than with hats. Hat’s have become ubiquitous at political events, proving they are the perfect accessory for official convention gatherings.
The tote bag is a custom merchandise product steeped in political history. While available well before, the ‘60s were an era which saw a marked increase in social and political engagement. With this, the tote bag gained new life, becoming more visible in the streets as not only a shopping sack but a sign of political activism.
Almost 40 years later, tote bags are still used to reinforce political messaging. Why? Because tote bags are both functional and versatile. You can dress them up or use them in a raw shape and color, they are highly personalizable, simple, useful, and fun. An entirely blank canvas, they present the perfect platform for political branding.
There are a lot of ways for voters to let the world know who they are voting for, but the oldest and most popular method for expressing political pride comes in the form of a campaign button. Vote Yes for buttons: they are simple to pass out, cost-effective to produce, and (most importantly), people will wear them.
Branded campaign merchandise is incredibly effective and persuasive, and applying political branding to custom apparel and promo goods creates a lasting impression. It opens new doors to donors, diversifies donations via a new revenue stream, builds the candidate’s brand, funnels existing revenue streams, and can be an impactful way to modernize a campaign while maintaining fresh content on social media channels. Not sure where to start? Our branding and production experts can help. Contact us now to start the conversation or download our product catalog for more information.